We gather this morning to remember, honor, and celebrate Jerald Orin Mann. We do so with a deep mixture of sadness and gratitude. I also want to lift your sights today . . to, if you will, look beyond death to see what is on the other side.
Let’s ask for God’s help.
Gracious and loving Father, you are the One who gives life and you are the One who determines when life is over. We confess today that your timing and your devices are often confusing to us. Today we do not come asking why? We understand that there are some things we do not and perhaps cannot, understand. Today we seek your comfort. We ask you to help us to remember and to celebrate Jerry’s life. Grant us perspective as we grieve and as we give thanks. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Anyone who knew Jerry Mann knew he loved the outdoors. He was a man who marveled at creation and concluded from his observations that this world did not take place by chance. He echoed the words of the Psalmist,
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.
Also in such a time as this we draw comfort from these words from the Apostle Paul because they seem to describe Jerry’s attitude toward life.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. [2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18]
Jerry Mann was born on April 12, 1949 in Shenandoah Ia. His mother and father had gone through the Depression and they believed in hard work. Their kids were taught that you were not to waste things and that you needed to learn how to do for yourselves.
When Jerry was young he really didn’t like to read. He took some extra reading classes and became a man who loved to read. He not only loved to read . . . he seemed to remember everything that he read. He knew information about all kinds of things that nobody else even knew existed!
Jerry served in the military as a military policeman during the Vietnam War. He was proud of his service to his country.
Jerry met Donna, interestingly enough, in a Liquor Store where Donna was shopping with her mom(!). As I understand the story, Jerry was coming back from hunting (no surprise!) and was with a former classmate of Donna’s. The classmate introduced the two of them (trying to fix them up) but neither had any initial interest. However, that changed and they soon fell in love. They would have been married 33 years on November 19th.
Jerry and Donna were a team. They did everything together. They worked and played together. They golfed, hunted, fished, and went to ballgames. They loved to travel and they loved to dance. They just enjoyed being together. It is obvious that there are many wonderful memories.
They purchased a McDonald’s in Oklahoma and lived in a rental home for many years (because they really wanted to get back where they could follow and root for the Hawkeyes). They built a nice new home in Oklahoma only to sell it two years later so they could move to Burlington and purchase the Ft. Madison and Burlington franchises.
Jerry loved being part of the McDonalds organization. He was regularly tapped for leadership positions in the organization. He was concerned to market a good product in the most customer friendly way possible. He liked the way McDonald’s did business. He loved being able to give back to the community through McDonalds.
Jerry was passionate about being a Father. He loved his kids. When they needed something he would drop whatever he was doing to help them. If he was in the middle of a project and one of the kids wanted to play catch he would stop what he was doing and go play catch with them (which is why many projects aren’t finished). If they got into trouble (which was more likely to be Tylor) he would be there. He did not always support the decisions of his kids but he always supported them. He always welcomed their friends as his friends. He and Donna made it a point to be at every school event even if they had to each go to a different event.
When it came to Christmas Jerry and Donna would set a budget, buy gifts and then just before Christmas Jerry would forget the budget and come home with a bunch more gifts.
When the kids were traveling Jerry always planned out the best route for them and then anxiously awaited word that they had arrived safely. If they got lost he would direct them right to where they needed to be.
Jerry wanted his kids to learn how to do things on their own. He wanted them to have a good work ethic, to have solid values and to do the right thing rather than the easy thing. On many occasions Jerry would chide his kids with the remark, “You are punting”. That was his way of saying you are giving up rather than doing the hard things necessary for doing what is right.
As you talk to the Michelle and Tylor (and even Jesse) you realize that they have many great stories but what you also realize is that they not only loved their dad; they respected him, their admired him, and they looked up to him. He was in many ways, their hero.
As a father, I know that our one concern in life is whether or not we have done an adequate job of letting our kids know how much we love them. Jerry loved his kids. He said you can’t watch a child be born and not believe that there is a Creator. He saw his children as a gift from God which he treasured. I hope he knew how successful he was at communicating his love to his children.
Jerry was a man with many interests. He was an avid outdoorsman. He loved to hunt and he loved to ski on the water and on the slopes. He just liked being outdoors. He was committed to conservation and worked hard to establish wetlands. He loved to hunt and fish. He had a different outfit for whatever he was doing. I’m told he always looked like a distinguished hunter; like he just stepped out of the Cabela’s catalog. He believed if you were going to do something, you should do it right.
However, what Jerry loved more than these outdoor sports was making it possible for others to enjoy these sports. There were fishing trips where he spent so much time making sure everyone else was having good success that he never got to fish himself! He derived such enjoyment from his outdoor sports that it thrilled him to be able to share that joy with others.
Part of the fun of hunting was the camaraderie. He always looked forward to the opening of Pheasant season for that very reason. There were always stories to be told.
Once Jerry and Jim went fishing in Yellowstone on the Firehole river. Jerry had heard it was a great place to go fly fishing. He got out into the river and started casting his line. After casting dozens of times he was getting frustrated at not getting even a little nibble. (This was a matter of pride to Jerry). Finally, after much more frustration he looked at his line and saw that his fly had apparently fallen off some time ago!
He always wanted to go to Africa on a Safari but it never worked out. He subscribed to Safari magazine so he could be prepared when that day came. It was a dream he never got to fulfill.
Jerry did love his Hawkeye sports. He enjoyed going to games, watching games, and listening to them. He was an avid fan. He was not above going deer hunting while at the same time listening to the Hawkeyes on the radio. Once during a real close game the guys were making a serious final push in the hunt and they turned around to see Jerry standing up signaling “Touchdown” because the Hawks had pulled it out. I guess you would say he was a multi-tasker.
Jerry was a good artist, a good cook (made excellent bread), and was a “tinker-er”. His biggest problem was that he was a perfectionist. He never felt his creations “measured up”. But that same attitude was the reason he kept growing, learning and trying to get better.
Jerry could have purchased stuff but it was more of a challenge to make things on his own. He could have had the yard landscaped but it was more satisfying to do it himself. He loved working. He was much more comfortable sweating than sitting behind a desk.
Jerry and the family loved to go on trips. Jerry was a man who was always prepared. He had the routes marked, the plans made and he had an uncanny ability to anticipate what would be needed and what people would forget. He always traveled with his ditty bag that was filled with anything you would need on the trip . . . medicines, nail clippers, batteries, hemorrhoidal cream, an extra pair of gloves, you name it. The family called him their medicine man.
The whole family enjoyed these times together. On one family vacation in Belize, South America the family went out snorkeling. Jerry was fascinated by watching two beautiful bright blue fish which had white stripes. He had never seen anything like it. He watched for a while and then went to take a closer look . . . turns out he was actually admiring the flippers of two divers who were hidden by the darkness!
Jerry had a great mind. He seemed to be able to remember everything he read (and he read widely). He could remember all kinds of things about every place he traveled. You could ask him about landmarks on any road he had traveled on and he could give those to you. He was great with music trivia. He was never uninformed. If he didn’t know how to do something . . . he got a book and learned.
Jerry was not distracted by technology. He didn’t waste a lot of time on the computer. He also never saw the point of text messaging. He figured it was a waste of time. It was easier to simply call someone if you wanted to talk to them.
Jerry was passionate about his politics. You could say he was on the “conservative” side of things. If you were confused about some of the issues of the day Jerry would happily straighten you. If you were confused about who to vote for Jerry was happy to give you direction. If you wanted to debate some of the political issues of the day Jerry was always very prepared to do so. Jerry believed the Constitution of the United States was brilliantly written undergirded by Biblical values. He strongly opposed those who felt the need to “Revise the Constitution”. He was opposed to those who sought to legislate from the bench.
The thing about Jerry though is that he was always concerned about being appropriate. He wanted to dress appropriately for each situation (and if in doubt he would dress a little better than what he believed was appropriate). He always watched his language when he was around women or children. He enjoyed having a drink or two or three but never if it meant he would embarrass himself or those around him. He had strong political beliefs but would keep his opinions to himself unless he was asked or someone else was being dogmatic. Jerry’s concern for propriety had nothing to do with his desire to “impress” others. He wasn’t trying to make people think he was better than he was. Jerry’s concern for propriety had to do with respect. He believed being appropriate showed honor and respect to those around him. This is why he held the door for women and always showed good manners. It’s why he wanted to make sure others were having a good time in the outdoor sports. He wanted people to know that they were important and valuable. When someone had a need his first question was, “What can I do to meet that need?” If he needed to drive all night, that’s what he would do. No hesitation.
As a result of all this Jerry Mann became a magnet drawing other people to him. Kids looked to him for advice. Adults looked to him for leadership. People in general wanted to be his friend. The man who held others in high regard was held in high regard by all those who knew him.
Jerry faced cancer like he faced the rest of life. He went after the disease. He pursued treatments aggressively and fought valiantly. He knew the odds and sought to get right with God. He lived as fully as he could and through it all kept saying he was “alright”. He fought hard to be able to walk his beloved daughter down the aisle at her wedding. He kept fighting until the end. When he died on October 26, 2010 the world became a little less joyful. He was a man who lived more in 61 years than most people would live in 100 years. He will be greatly missed but his impact will continue to ripple in the lives of those who knew him for many many years to come.
Let’s face it, there is nothing fun about a funeral. As we gather today our hearts are heavy. It doesn’t matter how much you expected death or how prepared you thought you were, you are never ready to let go of someone you love.
I want to share a couple of things with you today. First, grief is normal. It’s ok to cry. It’s also appropriate to be numb and even feel nothing. Sometimes loss is so devastating that can’t comprehend the loss and our system shuts down for a while. Sometimes you have anticipated the death for so long that you are almost “grieved out”. Grief is not the same for everyone.
Every year I speak at a Hospice Service of Remembrance in Illinois. People who have lost a loved one during the last year gather together. Many of the people don’t show up because, they want to move on. Others weep as if the loss happened yesterday. Some are bitter, others are reflective. The point is that people grieve in different ways. Give each other room (and time) to grieve in the way that is appropriate for each individual.
I’m sure Jerry would be uncomfortable with all the attention would hate to see you crying . . .but tears are fitting. Do not be embarrassed by your grief because it testifies to your love.
It is obvious to me that Jerry was a loving and special person. He had a wide variety of interests. I encourage you to share your stories. Remember and laugh. To do so is not disrespectful; it is a tribute to his life. Tears may come as you remember but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I had an experience once with my family. We had lost a cherished member of our family that last year. We gathered at Christmas and I (as the resident Pastor) was asked to say the blessing before the meal. In the prayer I mentioned that we were very aware of an empty place at our table. Immediately I began to hear people sniffle and cry. Honestly, I was afraid that I was going to be in trouble. When the prayer was over I was shocked to hear people say, “I thought I was the only one thinking about the loss.” The rest of the day we laughed and we cried as we shared memories and celebrated a special life. We would rather people remember than forget.
This is a tough time of the year to lose someone you love. The holidays will be hard. Share your memories. Tell your stories. Talk about what you miss. I am sure that there is nothing Jerry would like more, than to be remembered by those who love him.
There is a second thing I need to say. There is more to life than what we see. In some respects, it’s easy to dismiss the whole notion of life beyond the grave as something we need to say in order to get through the hard times. Such people say this life is all there is. That’s easy to say until you are called to say goodbye to someone you love. If this life is all there is, then life is ultimately pointless. We are but blips on the screen that matter very little.
I don’t believe this. I believe we were created with a purpose and are heading to something much greater than ourselves. I don’t think eternity is an illusion. Heaven is not something people made up to help us cope with hard times. I think there is lots of evidence but the greatest piece of evidence is the Resurrection of Jesus. The factual nature of this event is, I believe, overwhelming. Jesus told us there is life beyond the grave. Since Jesus rose from the dead I’m inclined to believe Him. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we can have hope even in the midst of sadness and grief.
Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11) When Jesus said this, He was talking to his dear friends, Mary and Martha at the funeral of their brother, Lazarus. There are three things to notice.
First, there is a promise: “He who believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus says there is life beyond the grave.
The Bible’s teaching is consistent. Death is not the end. There is existence and life that extends beyond the grave. It is a life that starts the moment we believe and goes on forever. It is a life that makes this life seem like only a moment. The Bible tells us that there are two possible destinations: Heaven and Hell. The life called Heaven is described in the Bible as a time and place filled with unimagined joy and the elimination of all that is evil or painful. We are told “God will wipe away every tear from their eye.” There is nothing good about the other alternative.
Second, there is a condition to the promise, “He who believes in me.” There are two common views about Heaven. One view says everyone who dies goes to Heaven except maybe the really really bad people (and we never consider ourselves in that group). So the only thing you need to do to go to Heaven is . . . die. The other view says that only those people who live “good” lives go to Heaven. The Bible says neither is true.
The Bible tells us that none of us have lived a good enough life to earn God’s favor or what we often think of as “heaven”. Even the best of us sin (or go against the ways of God) . . . and we do this with unfortunate regularity. Think about it, even if we only did what was wrong in God’s eyes either in thought, word, or deed three times a day (which would be a staggeringly good day for me), that would be 21 times a week (if we could maintain this goodness) . . . almost a thousand times a year! By the end of our lives we would have committed tens of thousands of sins. And this, I remind you, is a person we would consider an unrealistically good person! The point is: the debt of the best person is greater than they can pay.
The Bible tells us that the whole point of the death of Jesus was to give His life as a payment for our sin-debt. Now I always wondered: “How is it possible for one man to pay for the sin of millions or billions of people).
I find that it helps me to think about it this way: If terrorists tried to take down the White House how many Secret Service personnel would give their lives to protect the President? I suspect all of them would be willing to give their lives. And how many members of the Armed Forces would give their lives to protect the President? I would suggest it would be hundreds or thousands. Why would you trade all those lives to protect just one? It has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with the office or position of that One.
Now turn this around. The Bible teaches that this one man, Jesus, could give His life as a payment for millions upon millions because His position as Son of God made the sacrifice possible. It would be like the President trading his life so that thousands of others could be freed. The office of “Son of God” is much more valuable than “President of the United States” therefore the value of that life is exponentially greater.
The condition to receive forgiveness and new life is that we put our hope, faith, and confidence in Jesus and that we follow Him in the way we live our lives. The Bible is clear, only those who sincerely and truly trust Jesus Christ will be granted Heaven. Sincere trust is not a prayer you pray; it is not a membership you hold; it is the direction of your life. To really “have faith” or “believe” in Jesus means being willing to follow Him and trust Him.
For those who believe (the Christian), death is not the end of the story; it is merely the end of the introduction to the story. Death, to the believer, is merely a time of transition. It is the transfer point leading to new life, reunion and celebration.
I don’t know the nature of Jerry’s faith, but God does. I don’t know what he believed about Christ, but God does. I don’t know why Jerry was not really interested in going to church, but God does. I do know that Jerry was seeking. He knew he was dying. He thought about what came after death. The Bible says those who truly seek will find. God knows Jerry’s heart. I am confident that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right.
One more thing, note the question that Jesus asked. Jesus asked the sisters: “Do you believe this?” We can speculate all day long about what Jerry believed. The more important question today is: What do you believe? The answer to this question makes a world of difference in how you face this day. For those who do not believe, this day is the height of futility (we live, we die, and that’s it). For those who trust Christ, this is a day when we grieve, but with the hope of a future reunion because of God’s grace.
Please, use this day to address the ultimate question in your life: what is there beyond this life? Why are we here? Is it by chance, or have we been designed purposefully for something more than what we currently can see? I believe Jerry would tell you that if you simply push this issue to the side, you are “punting”. He would tell you that what you believe about Christ and eternity matters even more than what you believe politically. Use the heartache of this day to address matters of your own heart and soul.
Jerry Mann was the kind of man, the kind of person, we all would like to be. I would not have shared all of Jerry’s passions but I really think I would have liked him. We would all like to possess his character. So, hold him close in your memories. Learn some of those lessons he wanted to teach us:
- Do a job right
- Work hard and don’t expect handouts
- Keep learning and growing
- Be prepared and anticipate what you will need
- Make time for those who matter to you
- Show love in tangible and practical ways
- Respect and care for the world that God has given to us
- Family is a treasure that must treasured
- Show people respect by the way you conduct yourself
- Take your responsibility as a citizen seriously
- Doing what you can to help others is never a waste of time
- Live each day fully because you never know how many days you will be given
- Having a Big Mac every now and again won’t hurt anyone
Let’s pray together.
Our Father, You are the creator of a wonderful universe. We bow before You.
Thank you for the life of Jerry Mann. We have experienced your blessing through his life. We ask you to see his heart and receive him with your mercy and your grace.
I pray for this family. There is such a huge hole in their lives that will be impossible to fill. I ask You to give them comfort in their sorrow. I ask that You give them sharp and wonderful memories to cherish that refuse to dim over the passing of time. I ask that You grant them Your peace. Guide them as they are forced to adjust in ways they never anticipated. Protect Donna and be her companion in the lonely days.
Father, please help us to learn from Jerry’s life. Help us to live with the same kind of character, integrity and respect that he showed in his life. Help us to find You. We ask all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.